Ethics charges are filed against Union County judge

UNION COUNTY, NJ — A Superior Court judge who was convicted in February of defiant trespass in a dispute with her daughters’ Catholic grade school regarding one of the girl’s desires to play basketball on the boys’ team has been formally charged by a judicial board with five ethics violations.

The action by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, announced May 1, is the latest step that could lead to Theresa Mullen being removed from her post in the family division of the Union County court system, according to protocols listed on the New Jersey Courts’ official website.

Mullen, whose daughters were expelled — then reinstated — at St. Theresa School in Kenilworth in 2017, after the family sued the school, was accused by the advisory committee of violating the Judicial Code of Conduct by not observing “high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary” is preserved; failure to “respect and comply with the law”; failure to promote “public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”; using the “prestige” of her office “to advance a personal interest”; and not conducting her “extrajudicial activities in a manner that would not demean the judicial office.”

Mullen remains on the bench and her duties have not been restricted in any way, confirmed Mary Ann Spoto, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts in Trenton.

The charges stem from a decision by St. Theresa’s to disband its girls’ basketball team following the 2015-2016 season due to an insufficient number of girls willing to play.

Mullen and her husband, Scott Phillips, wanted their daughter Sydney — a seventh-grader at the time — to play on the boys’ team, but when that was rejected, sued the school and the Newark Archdiocese to compel St. Theresa’s to allow their daughter to play.

The Phillips family eventually prevailed and Sydney was allowed to play. But the diocese subsequently informed the family that their daughters were expelled from the school, citing policy that if a family involves the school in a legal matter, the children will be asked to leave. Despite receiving the letter, Mullen arrived at the school with her children Feb. 1, 2017, and allegedly refused to leave. She claimed that that the school had only “requested” her daughters not return, and she was refusing that request, the judicial complaint states.

She was reportedly “confrontational with school officials and repeatedly challenged law enforcement to take her into custody,” according to the ethics complaint, resulting in her removal by three Kenilworth police officers.

Two weeks later, the diocese readmitted the Phillips girls for the remainder of the school year but did not allow their re-enrollment for the current school year.
In February, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Alberto Rivas, who was assigned the case to avoid potential conflict of interest, found Mullen guilty of defiant trespass, calling her testimony not credible and writing in his opinion that she was “combative and evasive” while testifying in the case.

The committee that filed the charges will next review the complaint and give Mullen a chance to respond. Calls to Susan McCrea, the attorney representing Mullen in the ethics case, were not returned, nor were calls to calls to Edward Kologi, the lawyer who represented Mullen in the criminal case.
Any recommendations for discipline would be forwarded for a final determination to the state Supreme Court.